ClassPass diaries – aerial yoga at Skylab Studio

Skylab Studio in Camden is probably the cutest fitness studio I’ve ever seen. Set up in the attic space in instructor Astra’s home, it offers lessons in hoops, silk and rope as well as aerial fitness and yoga in a really friendly and cosy environment.

I went along to an aerial yoga class on a Saturday morning together with seven other early risers and it got my weekend off to a great start.

Like with all good drop-in classes the exercises and positions could be tailored to different levels so that everyone who attends feels challenged, whether they’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced.

I thought that having done a fair bit of pole fitness in the past would be to my advantage here, but it was still pretty tough going! If you head along to aerial yoga expecting something chilled and yin-like you’re going to have an unpleasant surprise – it was a really active hour and we worked up a sweat in no time.

I felt like the class worked almost every muscle in my body – we did TRX-style pull-ups for the arms and shoulders, inverted sit-ups for the abs, and single-leg salutations for quads and glutes. I’ve got aches all over today, which is always a good sign!

In the second half hour we had a go at some tricks, like the star and a pike-type move where you lie horizontal supported only by the hammock underneath your hips. Astra has been a circus performer for ten years so really knows her stuff and you feel more than safe in her hands.

There was a return to traditional yoga moves at the end of the class when we finished with a Shavasana, or corpse pose, but with our entire bodies inside the hammock like it was a cocoon. This would have been very relaxing, if I hadn’t been worried that I was going to accidentally either kick or headbutt one of the others as my hammock rotated!

As I have a weird thing about being upside down (it’s not just me – Kerouac used to start every day with a headstand), I absolutely loved this class and will definitely be back again. I’ve been desperate to try aerial hoop for ages so plan on giving that a go once I’ve worked on my pull-ups… watch this space!

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The ClassPass diaries – Music Video at FRAME

IMG_0719When I left my last job in December, my truly lush colleagues got me the best leaving gift a fitness fanatic could ask for – a one-month ClassPass.

A ClassPass allows you to try out a whole range of crazy classes at gyms and studios across London, offering everything from barrecore and burlesque to kick boxing and krav maga.

Seeing as December is inevitably a month of indulgence, I decided to wait until January to activate my pass and am hoping that it will help me to kick start 2016 in style.

First up on my list was a visit to FRAME, a dance studio that’s made a name for itself by offering themed classes teaching you how to werk it like your favourite pop stars.

The Music Video class which promises to show you how to ‘move and groove like they do on MTV’ seemed like a good shout, and I wasn’t disappointed!

We learnt a routine to Blow by Beyonce and, although I know I definitely can’t dance like Queen B, I still FELT like I could by the end of the class.

Instructor Alexus teaches the same routine three weeks in a row, ramping up the difficulty level each time, and I’m pretty glad that the week I went happened to be a ‘beginner level’ week – otherwise I would have struggled to keep up!

No one took the class too seriously though – it was much more about having loads of fun. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely while unleashing their inner sassiness. It was awesome – I’d definitely visit again!

Drop the Pom, Gymbox – review

Girls at the Drop the Pom class

Yesterday I headed to the Gymbox in Farringdon to try out urban cheerleading with PT Esmee Gummer. Esmee is a member of London’s Drop the Pom group and devised the class based on the workout cheerleaders get when practising and performing their routines.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how strenuous shaking some pom poms about would be, and was kind of hoping the studio wouldn’t have any windows so that no one could catch me in the act… Having found my love for exercising through weight training I wasn’t sure how seriously to take this class, but it turns out that the answer should have been VERY. Cheerleading is hard work!

After warming up, Esmee put us through our paces with a series of drills for legs, abs and arms. I started training years ago because I hated my thighs (which sounds stupid to me now), so I can squat with the best of them, but I found the arms section a challenge – you’d be amazed how hard it is to keep your arms up in the air for four minutes! So this is definitely a class I’d recommend to anyone who wants to sculpt their upper arms/shoulders.

After that there was a HIIT (high intensity interval training) section, which was probably the toughest section of all. This involved badass cheerleader-variants of side lunges, high-knees, jump lunges and the dreaded burpees, for a minute each, and I am more than happy to admit that I had to stop for a breather mid way!

Finally, we worked on a little routine, and by this point I had totally forgotten my worries about looking daft with the pom poms and could not have been loving it more. Esmee was a great teacher and taught us little sections at a time, always building on what we’d already practised.

One of my favourite things about the class was learning how strong you need to be to perform as a cheerleader, both physically and as a person – Esmee kept reminding us to smile and not let them know that we were in pain, ‘them’ being the audience of 10,000 that we were imagining performing in front of! This reminded me of pole dancing and how it looks so pretty and graceful but actually you need to be hard as nails to do it because it hurts like hell. There’s a weird satisfaction in making something difficult look easy – maybe it’s endorphin-related.

Esmee knows all about overcoming challenges to succeed, having had to learn to walk again after a complication during surgery for a sports injury left her temporarily paralysed from the waist down. This stopped her from going to performing arts school, but hasn’t prevented her from becoming a successful PT and dancer and even releasing her own fitness DVD earlier this year. It’s an impressive story and you can read all about it here.

All in all, Drop the Pom was a super full-body workout. My arms are aching today, which is always a good sign! More importantly I really enjoyed myself and felt so much better walking out of the gym than walking in, all set to enjoy the weekend.

I think I got lucky in that the class I attended was on a sunny Friday evening, so it was quieter thanks to the number of people who weren’t able to resist the pull of the beer garden! But Esmee’s class usually has a waitlist so if you decide to give it a go make sure you book in plenty of time.

Psycle London – review

At every other gym I’ve been to, spin class has been a collection of dodgy-looking bikes in one corner of a harshly-lit room, usually run by an unenthusiastic (and pretty unfit-looking) PT. At Psycle, it’s a borderline religious experience. And being the endorphin-worshiper than I am, I LOVED IT.

As soon as you arrive at Psycle you can hear music pumping up from the basement studios, and that’s part of the USP. Classes take place in rooms lit only with atmospheric multi-coloured strip lights, the idea being that this helps you lose yourself in the beat instead of focussing on how hard you’re working. The low level lighting also means you’re less aware of your neighbours and therefore less self conscious – although everyone in my class was really welcoming to newcomers, with the instructor giving a shout out to first-timers as well as bronze, silver and gold riders (i.e. people who had attended a milestone number of sessions) at the start.

Psycle’s other big selling point is that it provides cleated shoes for everyone. These increase the connection between the legs and the bike to really engage your hamstrings and glutes. Different movements in the saddle, including press-ups on the handlebars, and some hand weight exercises make this a truly full-body workout, proving that Psycle offers substance as well as style.

The instructor I had for my first class was A.D. and I thought he was completely awesome, although I should caveat that by saying it’s because I’m really into instructors who do the “Focus on your goal and imagine yourself achieving it and repeat after me ‘I CAN DO THIS!’ -type spiel. I just LOVE it. If someone says to me “Pedal double speed, close your eyes and say ‘I AM MY OWN MOUNTAIN'”, I’m like “YYEEEEEAAAAHHHHH!” because I find a tough workout a very cathartic and almost cleansing experience.

If, however, this isn’t your style, not to worry because there are lots of different instructors so you can try a few out until you find someone you jel with. All the instructors have bios on the website, listing their favourite workout tunes so you can choose a session by soundtrack too, which is pretty cool.

It’s also worth noting that there’s no competitive element regardless of the instructor – everyone’s encouraged to push themselves, but against their own maximum effort rather than someone else’s. As someone who came to love exercise as an adult, always thinking as a teen that I couldn’t do it at all just because I wasn’t good at team sports, this matters to me. All bodies are built differently, so unless you’re a professional athlete why pit yourself against someone else? 

But it’s not just the classes themselves that make Psycle so great – it’s the whole experience, from the wealth of info on the well-designed and attractive website to the friendly staff who will take you around on your first visit. I was shown how to use the lockers, given shoes to try and helped to set up my bike, and knowing in advance that this would happen put my mind at ease. I was really impressed by the whole thing, and can’t wait to go back.

Psycle has two London venues, at Mortimer Street (five mins from Oxford Circus) and the newly opened Canary Wharf studio. Sessions have to be booked in advance and don’t come cheap at £20 a go, but there’s a special intro offer where you can visit twice for that price – and in my experience that’s probably enough to get you hooked!

Regent’s Park run

I’m not much of a photographer, so the reason this is a photo post isn’t to show off my amazing photography skills – it’s to show off my amazing neighbourhood! In the week my flatmate took me on a running tour of Saint John’s Wood and Regent’s Park, and it was so pretty that I went back yesterday to take some pics to share.

Unfortunately I didn’t stop to get one of the tourists outside Abbey Road Studios but I did take a break to say hi to these local celebs… 

Then inside the inner circle of the park, near the open air theatre, there are a tonne of carefully curated little gardens and flower beds like this one… (spot the lady on the bench)

… plus this fountain of a couple of mermaids and a dude blowing water out of a shell. Normal.

There’s some pretty cool wildlife to see outside of the zoo, too, like these herons just chilling out by the boating lake. 

Note: this is also a great spot to watch people on pedalos taking pictures of themselves using selfie sticks. 

And finally, check this out. Those white spots on the ground? Thousands and thousand of daisies! 

If you want to see this route, use WalkJogRun and search for 8km routes near Maida Vale. I’ve named it ‘Fit As A Flea Regent’s Park run’, Ronseal-style. 

London Academy of Poledancing – review

I’ve loved poledancing since my final year of university but I’ve never been particularly consistent with it. I’ll often go mad for it for three months and then won’t go again for the rest of the year. It didn’t help that in Cardiff there weren’t many classes around – the one I used to go to on Friday evenings got brought forward to a time I couldn’t make so before today I hadn’t been for a whole 12 months!

One of the amazing things I’m learning about London, though, is that you can pretty much do what you want whenever you want… and this is where the London Academy of Poledancing comes in. Fancy a bit of pole on a Sunday afternoon? No problem. Just choose from choreography class, spinning pole lesson, inverts and climbing workshop… The list goes on!

I signed up for a ‘Pole Practice’ session, which is where polers of all levels can come along and work on whatever they choose under the supervision of a teacher. Numbers are capped at 14 to make sure that it’s just two to a pole, which means you get plenty of time to do your thing! 

The instructor, Hannah, was fab and really knew her stuff. She was able to help everyone out with their technique, from perfecting beginner spins to supporting the most advanced girls trying out new tricks. She started the class with a comprehensive warm up involving plenty of arm swings and squat-type movements to loosen up the joints, as well as some yoga and stretching, and made sure everyone had a good stretch at the end too. I think that sometimes people underestimate how much exercise you do in a pole class, probably because it’s such fun, but it puts a lot of strain on the shoulders in particular so it’s important to do a proper warm up and cool down.

As for myself, I was pleasantly surprised that I was still able to do all my old moves. It’s probably thanks to weight training, which is pretty good practice for lifting your own body weight above your head! That darn extended butterfly is still eluding me though…

I’d definitely go back, and am looking forward to trying aerial hoop, as well as a spinning pole class. Prices vary according to what class you take and there are different discounts available for multiple bookings, but the practice session I attended was £15 which seems to be about the average in London. You need to sign up to attend in advance (it helps them manage the numbers and make sure you get a good amount of time on the pole) and you can view the classes and make a booking here.

I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the studio we were in (although you can have a sneaky peek in my Instagram feed), but it was light and clean with lots of mirrors so you can self-assess. The Academy runs courses in lots of venues across London but this one was at the main HQ, off Old Street. It’s easy to miss so here’s a pic of the building: There are so many classes to choose from and all details are available online, as well as on these boards: Instead of changing rooms there’s a sweet little dressing room area with clothes hooks and space to store your things. There’s a very friendly vibe (I struck up a conversation with a really nice girl on the way in and we buddied up for the practice), so there’s no need to worry about keeping your kit bag under lock and key.And of course, there’s the branded kit for the super committed Academy attendees too! (And a brand new x-pole in that cardboard box!)A pole class always leaves me slightly amazed at how strong I am, which is a pretty good feeling to have. I highly recommend it for a Sunday afternoon activity to set you up for the week ahead!

A new stomping ground

You may have been wondering why I’ve been a little quiet on here lately. Okay you probably haven’t but humour me… The reason is that I’ve just made the big move to London for a new job, and I know that an hour’s exercise is only 4% of your day and all that but things have been so busy over the past month that I’ve barely found the time to work out let alone blog about it! 

However now that I’m settled in it’s time to turn that around, especially as summer is around the corner and it’s all about those ice cube abs! The slight spanner in the works is that the crazy prices mean I don’t even know if I can afford a gym membership in London, never mind a PT, so I’m going to have to work pretty hard to keep myself motivated and get a little creative with my workouts.

The upside of being in London is that the fitness scene is huge so there’s a tonne of cool/crazy classes to try and I’m going to have a bash at as many of them as possible. Come at me, barrecore, anti-gravity yoga and hydrospin! 

I’ll be finding and writing about as many of these as I can fit in, but in the meantime I’ll be relying on running for my endorphin hit. I was lucky enough to find an amazing flatshare in Maida Vale so there are lots of lovely places to run to nearby (whilst pretending you own one of the magnificent, palatial properties you’re likely to come across). This morning I headed in the direction of Little Venice and here are a few pictures to show how pretty it is!